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RELEASE DATE (NA): January 1992 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

The series starts to show its age... and its old musk...

It is the very early 90s, and the absolute mania surrounding Mega Man is in full swing. Three well-received NES games (and one monochrome Game Boy title) were tucked under his belt. Yet the fans were clamoring for more! More! ...MORE!! So Capcom put their fingers back to the programming keyboards, and from this process came the fourth NES Mega Man title. Upon its release, celebrations were held in many households as players took to their gaming consoles with another quest for the blue bomber; the world was experiencing everlasting peace once again, that which Mega Man was designed to protect. This was true for some time, until a subtle reality reared its ugly head: the game lacks the charm, the atmospheric feeling of the previous titles. Something just wasn't the same. The sensation that Mega Man games are starting to simply be "churned out" is upon us. But let's take a closer look at Mega Man 4 in order to see just how much "charm" affects one's enjoyment of a Mega Man video game.

Those faithful players who expected another return to the pattern of attempted world domination by Dr. Wily were initially disappointed to learn that a new face, the Russian scientist Dr. Cossack, was taking over the coveted role (with eight new Robot Masters to flesh out his entourage). However, those who managed to survive all eight of the separate robot-infested realms typical to the Mega Man universe, as well as Dr. Cossack's snow-covered Siberian citadel, discovered the shocking truth: he was bring controlled by Dr. Wily all along, in exchange for the safety of his kidnapped daughter Kalinka. How tactful! But Proto Man seemed to have the last laugh by rescuing Kalinka and revealing the truth to all. To be honest, this seems like just a crafty way to keep the soon-to-be-tired and repetitious storyline seeming fresh. Unfortunately, since the game's format seems to work well, it is difficult to create a variety of storylines that connect with the game's style. The inception of a new character was inevitable. It's just like when Aunt Becky or D.J.'s gnarly boyfriend Steve were introduced on 'Full House'.

The Robot Master Lineup: Pharaoh Man, Dive Man, Ring Man, Toad Man, Bright Man, Skull Man, Dust Man, Drill Man

Just as Capcom tried to keep the storyline fresh, the gameplay also displays new trends. The most noticeable change is the inclusion of the ability to charge your normal arm buster: that's right, it's the new Mega Buster! Holding down the fire button lets you charge up, and releasing the button fires off a much larger and more powerful blast. Neato! And there are indeed cases where a fully-charged blast is the only way to destroy some enemies, so at least the developers tried to implement the new weapon feature somewhat effectively. However, there are certain spots in the game where it will be a very tough ride if you choose not to use the charging ability. But why wouldn't you? It just looks cool! Secondly, there is another new character besides Dr. Cossack and Kalinka, one which proves to be a bit more useful (and pro-Mega Man): Eddie, also known as Flip-Top in some regions. When Mega Man meets up with Eddie in pre-determined locations in some stages, Eddie will open up his top half (flipping open, if you will) and toss an item out. The interesting thing about this is that one you collect the item he spews out, he will not return if you exit the screen and then come back, but if you are not satisfied with what he produces and you do not snatch it up, you can leave the screen and return, and he will respawn anew, ready to deliver a new item. When he appears on screen, he will immediately start walking towards you, and it seems that he will cough up something different depending on where you are standing (or so it seems when I play). I like leaving and returning until he gives me an E-Tank or, if I am impatient, an extra life or a large pellet to refill lost life energy. As a weird sidenote, in the Mega Man cartoon, Eddie only seems to give Mega Man cans of energy soda. I don't remember soda being in the games (okay, perhaps in Mega Man Legends). Another new addition is the ability to actually find adaptors to use, being the Wire Adaptor which allows you to grapple the ceiling above you, and the Balloon Adaptor which creates fun-filled air balloons that can act as platforms. Upon snagging either of these adaptors, you hear a short ditty that ranks among the worst-sounding music in Mega Man history. Erk!

As usual, there are eight Robot Masters to dispose of as soon as you begin a new game. Capcom continued its typical Robot Master design contest in Japan, and from it came some particularly unusual results. It appears that Japanese children were slowly running dry of ideas, and therefore the Robot Masters are downright funky sometimes. You'll have to get out of a slippery situation when you face Toad Man; your wits and intelligence will come in handy when you meet Bright Man (get it?); and you'll certainly want to keep your shoes on when Dust Man's in town! (The Robot Master descriptions I provide are indeed cheesy beyond the point of hope, but they won't stop here.) The arsenal Mega Man can procure also seems to have suffered somewhat from a lack of creativity; many of them mirror weapons of the past. For example, Skull Man's Skull Barrier weapon seems far too similar to the Leaf Shield from Mega Man 2, and Bright Man's Flash Stopper is practically a dead ringer for the legendary Time Stopper, courtesy of Quick Man from Mega Man 2 as well. The Ring Boomerang here is also a copy of the Quick Boomerang from Mega Man 2. Come to think of it, the developers must have just looked at Mega Man 2 for inspiration. Not a bad place to look, mind you... The only truly novel change is in the Pharaoh Shot, which can be fired off in little peach-coloured pellets or it can be charged up to expel a much larger round shot. (It's particularly potent against the final boss, but don't tell anyone!) After you defeat the eight Robot Masters, you must traverse Dr. Cossack's citadel, followed by Dr. Wily's fortress. Yep, that's right. For the first time in a Mega Man title, there is not one but TWO fortresses to invade! Double the fun, right? Well, sort of. The Cossack and Wily stages are actually somewhat dry and annoying. They lack a certain element that older games possessed and seem to be based more on hindering the player, rather than just letting them have a fun time. That's not the Mega Man way, Capcom.

On the graphical end of things, the game has the same level of quality as its predecessor, which is good, but there's always room for improvement as other companies tried and push the limits of the NES. Granted, the introductory sequence is much better (just the fact that there actually IS an introduction is certainly a step above Mega Man 3) with more cartoonish-based characters and a more detailed backstory of Mega Man's creation and about what's going on in the game. However, that just doesn't seem to be enough for me. Yet perhaps I'm just asking too much of our beloved 8-bit system. After all, it can only do so much. I should just be happy that the graphics didn't get worse (although some colour schemes could use a tweaking). And on the lighter side of things, the box art, though still really corny, displays a version of Mega Man that is closest to what Japanese gamers have been seeing for years. Why Mega Man looks so pissed off is a mystery though. As for sound quality, that is a whole other matter. Mega Man 3 had a wicked soundtrack that even insects flying past the television could breakdance to. Mega Man 4's score does not even closely match its greatness. The composer is not the same (which is a shame), and the new music composer in town seems to NOT have a good grasp on what sounds absolutely ear-piercingly brittle (particularly the aforementioned jingle when the Wire or Balloon Adaptor is acquired). Few songs are memorable (actually, only Ring Man's stage is jazzy), the rest are bland, and some just grate on your ears with unusually odd harmonization of its instrumentation. Typically, when I review a game whose music is unpleasant, I tend to recommend turning the volume down and playing a favourite album instead. This is no exception: do it!

I suppose I have failed to answer the all-purpose question that I had posed before. Well, even though the classic "feel" of the Mega Man games is starting to dissipate, there's still a lot of fun to be had here. Mega Man 4 is much more fun than a significant percentage of the NES library, and still is ultimately worthy of the Blue Bomber's namesake. But with only a couple of new tricks up the sleeves of Capcom employees, this game suffers from a stark sense of déjà vu. Try it out and judge it for yourself though -- which you can do via the Mega Man Anniversary Collection, available on your local PS2, GameCube, or Xbox gaming console now!

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